Thursday, September 20, 2007

Should I resuscitate this blog?

Heh, I notice there's someone who's been checking in here a bunch of times over the past few weeks. I take requests, you know--what would you like to hear? (Try the veal!) But really, it's been pretty dead in here.

Had another blog (translation-related) that I was putting my energies into, plus, you know, real life stuff. So anyway, haven't given this feeble blog much thought recently...

I am thinking of putting my energy back into writing, and I could go back to posting about that, or post more writing itself.

I will think about it.

Anyway in the meantime if you want to see more ways I've frittered away my time, you can go onto htttp://tabletalk.salon.com (sorry I am too lazy to set up a proper link right now--maybe later). I'm coming and going in various threads like For Better or For Worse (in Family Life), and Bizarre Hatred of Random Celebrities, which is under Movies. My tabletalk name is Mochi Hada, by the way. What a time suck, but fun, for those of us parked in front of computers for work anyway.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Manga fans...

Scurry on over to my new blog--it's full of fun, fabulous discussion of a classic Japanese shojo manga, "Poe no Ichizoku" by Moto Hagio. This is a story of a family of vampires who travel eternally through time.

http://ponoichizoku.blogspot.com

Yoroshiku! (Hope to see you there!)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Okay, it's been a while...

getting all this traffic from salon.com since I linked here this morning

speaking of links (if you ever wander here from a non-salon site) here is a wonderful discussion board for larger women (people?)-related issues: The Avoir du pois thread!

Having a blast there so far!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

wow

Salon.com yanked a few of my posts--and probably some others'--in the previously-mentioned, ever-deteriorating flame war. It's too bad--I think they were pretty damn kickass, the people they were aimed at truly deserved them, and I don't have any other duplicates. Guess I touched a nerve!

It was silly, though. At least let me explain that it was raining all day, so I got sucked into it. I promise to behave from now on, though. Really, a civil discussion there quickly became impossible. Overweight people were being accused of hastening global warming by exhaling more carbon dioxide than the average person, for chrissake. I got a cute email (from someone I had not even spoken to directly up until then) about my mother, anyone who spoke out to deride the two main flamers was dismissed as being fat and ugly...you get the idea.

The thing is, it was kind of fun, in a weird way, to jump in...to get down to their level...it's just too easy to cyber-smack people--that's the scary thing...next time I will steer clear, though.

Sorry for the lapse

Almost two months...jeez.

Have been pulled into an online tiff that is getting beyond boneheaded. You can slog through the letters if you want, here.

Here's the original article, simply about a guy named Josh Max who is unapologetically in love with his larger-sized wife.

Are some of these letter-writers actually walking around in public? Yikes.

The crossfire has got me sort of exhausted at the moment--I'll try to be more entertaining with my next post...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Pardon my French, Or: This is Not a Pipe

More cross-cultural fun...

In Australian journalist Sarah Turnbull's Almost French, a witty and illuminating account of negotiating life and love in Paris, she describes hanging out with her French fiance and a group of his male friends. He has an idiosyncratic habit of smoking a pipe, so, trying to impress the gang, she asks him in her awkward French if he would like her to fetch him his pipe--literally, do you want a pipe?

Frederic's pals burst out into laughter: "I wish I had an Australian girlfriend!"

Turns out "une pipe" refers to a blowjob.

Language is a bitch!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Calling all Bostonians

It's just gorgeous weather here outside Boston. The blossoms and flowers look almost psychedelically colorful and ripe. It's sensory overload, practically.

May 14th is Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain. I've never been before, and am expecting a mad scene if we do make the hike out there. It's the one day per year they let people picnic on the grounds, a big ol' Boston tradition. Since I'm fond of my adopted city (technically I'm a bit west of Boston, out in suburbia), and I'm not sure whether we'll still be here another year from now, I'm wondering what the "typical", "must-do" Boston experiences are. Cape Cod (check), Fenway Park (can't afford it), swan boats, 4th of July fireworks on the Esplanade (check, but I should go back), yadda yadda. Let me make it clear that I'm no tourist. But I want to be able to say I took a big, juicy bite out of the...Bostonian equivalent of the Big Apple. Oh, as for lobster, I can take it or leave it.

Belly-up-death

I just learned a new word today, when my Japanese husband asked me if a similar word existed in English: fukujoshi. Literal meaning: stomach-up-death. Tweaked a bit, it means death on top of someone else's stomach. In other words, dying in the middle of sex. I think they're referring to the man here. Anyway, sometimes you have to go outside the English language for a really descriptive, concise, punchy word.

On a different note, we were in Borders today, at the cafe, browsing through books we had no intention of buying: he likes stuff about neuroscience, dense political and economic analyses...though for a laugh he did recently complete He's Just Not That Into You (we both married young, and never knew how rough it is out there, dating).

Our taste in reading material could not be more disparate. He shies away from fiction; that's the bulk of what I read. Non-fiction I like tends toward memoirs, books about food, history (but not military history, please) culture and the arts. I realize this all sounds vague and general. Suffice it to say, different tastes in books. I wonder how that happened...

Anyway I came very close to finishing The Julie/Julia Project, which I will definitely get into more detail about as soon as I'm done...I'm liking and admiring it a lot, but it took over fifty pages for me to be won over.

Also about forty pages away from the finish line with A Confederacy of Dunces. Tell me what to read next.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Esperanza (Short Fiction--Part Three)

When Tim’s tour of duty was up he came home and started working at our father’s hardware store. Our beautiful mother, whom the ravages of age and sunlight had left virtually untouched, was the most content I’d seen her in years. Bach’s Brandenburg concertos filled the house, where she baked fresh bread for our older brother and forwarded tins of homemade cookies to Johann at baseball camp, secure in the knowledge that he would receive them, even if he failed to write letters back.

Even Betsy, freewheeling through her freshman year at college, returned from her visits home awed by the sense of fullness emanating from the household. Only our father seemed less sure of things, pressured by the encroachment of huge discount chains into his territory. The small guy can’t win, he said one night. The next evening as father and son took inventory in the back of the store, he clutched suddenly at his chest but Tim couldn’t help him, as he’d been trained to deal only with extremes in climate, hostile forces hitting from without.

Despite our last-ditch efforts to locate him, Manuel was not present at the funeral. Afterwards our mother was inconsolable. Doubly bereft, she moaned constantly, at one point softly crying out for Manuel, too. I held her hand, thinking how unfair it was that she could moan his name in public without feeling like a deviate. Betsy told feeble jokes, and Johann, in his suit of mourning, pitched imaginary fastballs into space. Tim tried frantically to calm her. After the visitors had left, he went upstairs to his room and came back wearing his military parka and boots. He’d never shown us these before, apart from group photos: bulky packs of eskimos, faces obscured by thick hoods.

“This is what he’d be wearing,” he told her.

“But how do we know?” She sobbed. “We’ll never know where he is.”

When the insurance check arrived it was determined that Tim would go to Antarctica on a fact-seeking mission. After a strenuous search, Betsy managed to find an eight-day cruise that came in at just under ten thousand dollars. We booked his reservation and waited for November, start of the austral summer.

Tim arrived home ruddy and glowing with excitement. In the airport we ran up and hugged him tearfully. Our mother, anxious and weary with the anticipated findings, awaited him at the house. When we got back our mother sat him down and fed him a meal she’d prepared, his most favorite foods.

After the meal we moved to the den, where he opened up his pack and passed around instamatic shots of Southern elephant seals, a volcanic beach, an Adélie penguin colony on Paulet Island. This was just for starters, he told us, since he had ten rolls of film to be developed. It was an amazing place, he kept saying. Amazing.

Our mother, looking pale, quietly asked about Manuel. After a moment Tim said he hadn’t managed to find out anything. She pressed on: What about Esperanza? Tim explained that Esperanza was a military foothold, off-limits to sightseers. He had not wanted to cause trouble. Besides, the day-to-day schedule was pretty packed.

“You never liked Manuel,” she accused.

But she was wrong. Anyone could see it was Johann who didn’t like him.

Tim sadly left. After two days, we thought he’d reenlisted. Then three weeks later we received a postcard from the jungles of Brazil. Don’t worry, it said. I’m okay. And the following week, the U.S. Embassy wired us the message that Tim was in a hospital in Sao Paolo, stricken with a mysterious fever, and in his state could not be safely transported home.

Our mother, the only one of us with a ready passport, went ahead; Betsy, Johann and I followed the next day. From the airport we went straight to the hospital, where our mother sat at his bedside, crying, “Esperanza.” Flustered nurses brought her cool drinks. “Your brother?” One of them turned to me and smiled. “Very nice. He looks just like Marinho.” I didn’t ask who Marinho was.

The next day he was lucid, but too feeble to speak. We sat with him, chatting about the neighbors, about camping, about the hardware store we’d decided to put up for sale. No one mentioned Manuel.

His eyes slid closed; we’d exhausted him. He went to sleep and woke up hours later, shivering and drenched with sweat. Johann looked down at his hands, while Betsy urged Tim to think penguin. The hardy and adaptable bird-mammal, world’s most lovable anamoly. I touched his hot-cool forehead and watched him breathe. Here in the tropics we enjoyed none of the visible assurances of cold-air exhalations. I had to watch his chest.

We perspired helplessly. None of us were prepared for our touchdown onto this new continent. So we clung to him. I’m sure Betsy took careful notes, gauging each subtle flicker of expression. Tim lay prone on the bed. All that knowledge trapped inside him, gently melting away.

His eyes slowly pointed toward our mother. “Mom,” he said. Then, “Mama.” Then a faint lilt, a lurch: “Mamá.” Or was it my imagination? Then finally, “Ma. Maa.”

*****

Eventually our mother began to age. It was bound to happen, and then the hysterectomy, which pinpointed her lack, internalized it. This time she accepted gracefully. Hormones helped to regulate her moods, and she directed her energies back to her very first love, piano. Children came to the house to study with her.

After college Johann was hired by a public-relations firm; one day he gathered us together at his apartment to announce that he’d changed his name to John. (He almost reverted later, then stuck with his decision.) Betsy studied drama in New York, and recently got rave reviews at Chicago’s Gateway Theatre for her Blanche Dubois, although her true forte is comedy.

I live in a big city, and my secret terror is of encountering Manuel without realizing it. An anonymous run-in on the street is what most worries me. I could calmly befriend him, invite him over, if his identity were clear to me.

As a result I try to know everybody by name--or avoid contact with men I can’t classify. This is not as difficult as it seems. People find me outgoing, effusive, when I smile and orchestrate a mutual introduction. Because of my work as a journalist, none of this looks suspicious.

As an offshoot of this friendliness I have had many lovers. So far none have been Manuel Suárez. I’ve decided that this in itself is no reason to turn them down; after all, it’s something tangible, knowing who someone is not. These men are harmless and self-serving. We exchange phone numbers and addresses, which I eventually throw away. I am placated temporarily, but later I think that they are delays, wasted moments, obstacles strewn in the path that connects me to him.

Esperanza (Short Fiction--Part Two)

Nonetheless, with his incorporation into the family a weight was shifted off our mother’s shoulders. She spent many hours with Johann. By age six, however, he was determined to play baseball. Our dad, who indulged our mother in many ways, protested that she was transforming his younger son into a mama’s boy. I believe the situation was more complex, although she let up on Johann after that. He was inevitably turning into someone else. He still tagged along on our outings, if reluctantly. At least once a month we would stroll, en famille, through the halls of Cincinnati’s natural history museum. Betsy, Tim and I studied the flora and fauna of the Antarctic. We already knew more than the other kids at school. Our reports and oral presentations rang out with authority.

Tim, in fact, had undergone an evolution from indifferent student into a serious, single-minded young man, the kind the Marines claim to need. At the age of fifteen Tim set out on a jogging regimen of six miles a day, and continued his high school baseball career only with our father’s promise to take him winter camping in Colorado. He had already pitched his state-of-the-art tent in our snowy backyard, and now needed a fuller experience. We had our bitter winters in Ohio, but Tim found the flatness of the land uninspiring. He and Dad did make the trip in February of Tim’s junior year, to the undisguised envy of our mother, who had found the anniversary cruise to the Bahamas dull and disappointing.

His muscles tautened, but it was Tim’s inner transformation that astonished us: by his early teens he simply knew everything one could know about Antarctica, without setting foot there. He passed on his knowledge to Betsy, who was a wild and gleeful girl, liberated by the lucky order which had placed Johann, and not her, in the perpetual shadow of Manuel Suárez. Betsy was an expert on krill plankton, and at age eight could pick out the Adélie from the chinstrap, Emperor and macaroni penguins. At dinner she described for our parents the huge chinstrap breeding grounds on the shores of Deception Island.

Throughout these years we never lost sight of Manuel. At first as a baby in a snug snowsuit, then as a little boy perhaps kissing Julia goodbye each morning: I myself saw a slow panning shot of Manuel skipping off to school past the unvarying whiteness of distant, mammoth, oddly-shaped chunks of ice. He wore a parka, swung his satchel and sang sweet songs that crackled in the air. And later on we worried about the ozone layer, the status of the Antarctic Treaty and its ramifications. But we couldn’t place him anywhere but Esperanza. The intellectual fervor of Tim or Betsy, for example, never led any of us to consider studying Spanish. To our family, Manuel was Antarctican.

In my teens I chose to forget the ten-year age difference and envisioned him as an older brother stationed in the army overseas, inaccessible but out of danger. By my senior year of high school, and against some unspoken rule, I had started fantasizing him as a dark, dreamy, latin-lover type, around thirty. On a Sunday afternoon I might lie on the bed with toes curled, stroking my belly and muttering, “Manuel, Manuel.” I was deathly afraid my mother would catch me.

Tim, on the other hand, was fearless. Not only did he strip himself down to shorts before a five-mile run in the snow, but by his last year of high school he’d travelled out west to scale the high perpendicular faces of rocks and run kayaks down rivers that foamed like rabid animals. HIs brand of recklessness was serious and premeditated, almost choreographed. While Johann threatened to run away and join the army, it was Tim who actually enlisted.

As I progressed through college, mentally pasting a gaucho face onto any guy who went further than a kiss, Tim was stationed at the Northern Warfare Training Center in Fort Greely, Alaska, where they drilled him in arctic combat and survival. I came home whenever he visited us on leave. While our dad told everyone how proud he was, our mother had an anxious look in her eyes. She had faith in Tim, but his leaving had exacerbated another fitful need. Manuel?

In any case she again tried the Consulate General of Argentina, which steadfastly refused to divulge information on private citizens. They wouldn’t even verify whether the boy, almost twelve years old now, was still in Esperanza, and we were forced to concur that Manuel Suárez might have drifted away. Betsy managed to procure from the community college a Buenos Aires phone book. She found twenty-six Carloses--potential fathers--under the Suárez listing, and twenty-three men (or boys) named Manuel.

Esperanza (Short Fiction--Part One)

Esperanza

Our mother spotted the story, which the wire services had apparently picked up, on page four of the Cincinnati Post. She sat at the kitchen table, turning pages with the hand of the same arm that cradled two-month-old Johann, who sucked on a bottle. In the driveway Dad worked on his car.

After a pause, she called the three of us kids over--even Betsy, who was six--to hear the capsule article. Manuel Suárez had been born two days before at a hospital in Esperanza, on the Antarctic Peninsula. Esperanza was the Argentinean base where Manuel’s father and other scientists conducted research on weather patterns around the South Pole. “Argentina’s President delightedly announced plans to grant little Manuel a lifelong annual stipend of ten million pesos, in honor of his countryman’s achievement as the first person born on a continent.” Mother and baby were reportedly doing well.

Betsy objected: if Manuel was “the first person born on a continent,” what were the rest of us, then--frogs? Only later would she enjoy sidelining the facts for the sake of a whimsical notion.

Our mother didn’t respond. Gazing down at the paper, she said darn. Then darn it, like a needle poking through wool. She had just had her fourth child--an easy, uncomplicated labor--and had overriden her husband’s picks to bestow on this final baby the name of her favorite composer, Bach. Our mother was a romantic sort who lounged on her bed, during the last months of pregnancy, leafing through the travel spreads in magazines like Town and Country and National Geographic. Our father had promised her a cruise for their fifteenth anniversary, coming up in two years.

But an opportunity missed, like that! It was only on reading about Manuel that she felt cheated somehow. After all, who would even have considered giving birth in Antarctica--or that it hadn’t been done before? We kids were extra nice to her that first week; we did our chores without being asked, and kept our rooms clean.

I tried pointing out that the mother, Mrs. Julia Suárez, had been flown into Esperanza by special transport plane in her thirty-third week. Even a ten-year-old girl like me could see the macho recklessness, the collaboration involved in pulling off such a feat. These arguments failed to stir my mother. She looked at her baby, who was suddenly needy and plain.

It was Tim who saved the day. He was a wiry, athletic eleven-year-old with no apparent interest in infants, and so Tim’s suggestion, that we “adopt” Manuel, came completely out of left field. But our mother immediately seized on the idea, and that night began knitting the baby a sweater. The sweater, embellished with penguins on both sleeves, came out so well that she hated to part with it. Besides, it fit Johann perfectly.

Instead we bought Manuel a few trinkets, the kind of brightly-colored toys that stimulate the mind of a child. My mother packed these in a small box which she placed inside another box, along with a letter directing the consulate to forward the inner package to Manuel Suárez, the little boy in Esperanza. Every year she sent something, an article of clothing or a toy, accompanied by a simple letter in English, signed by each member of the family. These packages never came back to us. We saw this as an encouraging sign. The continued receipt of these gifts, indicating the implicit approval and, indeed, involvement of international authorities, effectively sharpened in our mother’s mind the reality of Manuel, and his tangible relationship to her, to us. Rather than monopolize him, she actively encouraged, even demanded, our engagement.

Each year we held a birthday party for him. Rather than invite friends or relatives we kept the festivities within the family, decorating the ceiling with balloons and streamers and ordering a sheetcake from the bakery. Betsy threw herself into the spirit of these parties, playing games like pin the tail on the donkey and hide-and-seek with her “pretend” playmate, Manuel--who, as we all knew, existed. I helped our mother serve the cake while Tim set up the folding wooden stage our father had constructed for the puppet show. Only Johann, once he’d reached the age of four or five, reacted to these celebrations with indifference, poking at his cake with a fork. His birthday fell two months before Manuel’s, and each year he had his own party and presents.

Our mother was never completely the same after Manuel’s birth. At times she seemed both weightless and solid, reading novels and baking pies. Her hands were blue-tinged and she wore sweaters straight through June. Still, Mom was colored with an energy and determination to unlock the mysteries of the planet. Rather quickly her love of music and other man-made art forms shifted to a curiosity toward ice formations and natural phenomena. She found human beings interesting in proportion to their success in grappling with the elements. She respected Amundsen, first man to reach the South Pole, and even felt a pitying admiration for Scott, who died trying. Her hero and rival was, of course, Mrs. Julia Suárez. The lost goal not a South Pole landing but Manuel.

Change of Plans

My short story "Lag Time" isn't even on my backup disk. While I debate whether or when I want to manually type the story out, I will offer up another short fiction of mine, "Esperanza."

It was published maybe a year after "Lag Time." Due to its much shorter word count (3000) it was sent out to a ton of literary magazines--probably sixty or more, and back before the days of electronic submissions (it got costly!)--then finally was accepted at Confrontation.

On searching out their website, it appears their last edition came out in 2004...another college lit mag typically folds?

I will provide another fun publishing anecdote for this story afterward--but first, here's the actual goods.

My new crush

Quickly, as it's a busy day...

Just wanted to say that I love Stephen Colbert. I know, take a number and go to the end of the line, but there it is.

I can't believe it's not butter, either. Awesome.

I'm not on the browser where I can do links right now, but go over to thankyoustephencolbert.org and express your appreciation for the guy, if you haven't already.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Walking the Walk

Well, I've been going on about writing for the past week or so, offering no real proof that I've actually accomplished any writing of my own. (Blog writing is a blast, but that's not what I mean.)

I'm about to remedy that by posting a short story of mine, "Lag Time." Once I dig up the backup disk it's supposedly on, I will post it in brief segments...it was probably about 6000 words altogether, so in total it is a committed read, but y'all can go at it at your leisure, and hopefully you will feel inclined to read it in its entirety.

Since this is a writers' blog, a bit of background:

It was written my second semester of grad school, revised slightly over the following autumn, and submitted to thirty or more literary magazines. The length of the piece actually disqualified it from being sent to more places. Anyway, after a year or more it was finally accepted at Gulf Coast Journal and was published in the spring of 1997.

About another year later, "Lag Time" was selected for Honorable Mention for the O. Henry Awards for that year. I recall being disappointed, then I went out and bought the anthology containing the winning stories and they were all boring and homogenous. So I felt better, somehow, not to have made the cut.

It's still the favorite piece of mine. Warning, though: if you like plot-driven fiction, stay away. There is really no plot. Atmosphere, yes. Start looking for installments within a day or two.

I've never been good with titles

I just renamed the blog. It took me over an hour hunched over the computer, coming up with one unworkable phrase after another. Do you know how tough it is to be original these days? Everything, I mean EVERYTHING, has been thought up before.

I really did like the previous handle, Another Day, Another Carrot. Besides being an homage to the immortal Bugs Bunny, to me it did convey something of the daily grind of writing (or carrots...). But it wasn't quite snappy enough, and frankly, I doubt most people had any idea what the hell it meant, or that it was even connected to a writing theme.

See, I'm working the branding angle here, trying to sell the product. Anyway, First Draft it is, for now, though don't hold me to anything for the long run. Here's to all the first drafts and novels in mid-process out there...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Ouch



Here's an article from today's salon.com about an author's book debut getting rained on by another project that appeared a few months earlier on an unexpectedly similar topic, a couple's life with an impossible dog.

The author, Lee Harrington, starts with her pre-publication fantasies of A-list interviews, book signings and royalties...but before that could happen, this other memoir of a couple and their unruly dog was released, got rave reviews and prime display space, and is selling briskly.

I admit it's a painful read--I stopped mid-article to blog this--and I'm not even planning to write about dogs. (I haven't read either book.) But the possiblity is certainly there for all your hard work, ideas and planning to be undercut by the upstart, the freak doppelganger, the flashy new girl who appears in class out of nowhere to make the rest of us look like pathetic wannabes, hopelessly derivative, so five minutes ago.

Nothing to do but let it go...meanwhile Harrington's upcoming novel is scheduled for release next year.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Back to the writing

We didn't get into trick writing exercises during my workshop days at City College, but one assignment I do remember. We had to go to the encyclopedia, find an entry, and riff something fictional off of it. I did a comical but ultimately ludicrous piece involving the Goncourt brothers. (I don't want to get into further detail.) But it was fun writing something that didn't really matter...people got colorful.

Meanwhile, Update: If you want an incisive if depressing investigation into Kaavya Viswanathan's sleazy "book developer," 17th Street Productions, read here.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Why I Blog, Part I

The posts are flying at the moment, aren't they? So the short answer is: because I have time. Next week, however, I have a Job Interview for a proofreading position. This would mean 40 hours a week of fixing some kind of imperfect corporatespeak, but for good pay. I promise, I won't go off on a spelling rant here. Or stop posting. Eh, I've just gotten started.

Speaking of promises, I meant to add that within this blog I will never upload pics of small children, or talk about my cat. I won't get into politics. I'll merely strive to take some books and experiences and interesting topics and whatnot and recreate them so they're all sparkly on the page.

Get a Grip


The book club meeting was fun. Inconsequential discussion of the book itself, but good company and a nice easy jaunt into Worcester. On arriving back home, I checked my planner and realized that I had carelessly double-booked the reading group with a meeting/class/gathering taking place that same night in a private conference room at the Holiday Inn in Brookline. As delightful as the evening had turned out, I was kicking myself for missing out on the phenomenon that is Fetish Diva Midori.

I've taken one other class with her recently, a kind of Dom(mes) for Dummies called How to Top. Midori is an educator, a 5'2" Japanese/American world-traveling ex-dominatrix who conducts seminars on different aspects of kink and sexuality. She's sophisticated and witty, her schtik is hysterical, she's a professional, and you never once feel like a dirty pervert as you sit within a group of people learning about erotic humiliation or getting in touch with your inner domme. She's also something of an expert on Japanese rope bondage, and offered a recent weekend intensive here in Boston that instantaneously sold out.

So last night's demo, the one I missed, was on Predicament Bondage. I was going to spill all about it here, and now will have to conjecture instead...From what I heard, she shows how to tie someone up in such a way that however the victim twists or turns, he will bring on himself Excruciating Sensation A or B. Or C. And down the line. My previous class with Midori had not involved any graphic demonstrations, so last night would have given me a further nudge into my tentative, voyeuristic exploration of kink. Then again, knowing that an image of a squirming naked man bound by ropes is likely to stick in my head for a long while, I also feel like I bought myself a little time...Anyway, Midori is certain to be passing this way again in the next few months with her bag of tricks. Book one of her classes (says Nancy, the budding domme); she's teaching a lot of psychological power play stuff I'm sure you can take out of its immediate kinky context and apply in the larger world of business, family, relationships, etc....

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Hum a few bars and I'll fake it...

Tonight I go to my monthly book club. I haven't read the book, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. Been busy, plus it just doesn't seem like the kind of book I would be into--I get an Oprah-ish vibe from it. But the other women are interesting, and we do meet at fun restaurants. It doesn't matter that much anyway; the book discussion always devolves into random conversations.

I found the club off of Craigslist, and it's amazing that the group has held together this far (about four sessions and counting). I don't know about other parts of the country, but Craigslist in Boston consists largely of people looking to meet others and participate in all sorts of activities...and then don't. It seems to be all in their head--this desire for a vibrant social life with a bunch of cool new acquaintances--with very weak follow-through. Lots of well-laid plans that fizzle out, cyber conversations that go nowhere. It's hard getting around the passive mindset. So I'm rooting for this book club to defy the odds and hang in there.

What I'm (Re) Reading Now--A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy O' Toole. Brilliantly structured comic novel; I'd like to talk more about it later.

Enjoy the weather--especially sun-deprived New Englanders!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Just Write Anything

Julia Cameron in her writing guide, The Artist's Way, spends a lot of time examining how and why we avoid engagement in creating art or music, writing, fulfilling a creative dream. I'm not interested in getting into that here. She does have a series of helpful exercises for forcing the (wannabe) artist to actually roll up the shirtsleeves and get something accomplished. One of the cornerstone exercises she advocates is the Morning Pages. Every morning you wake up, roll out of bed (or keep the notebook next to your bed for handy access) and begin filling up three lined notebook pages. That's three sides. It can be, and usually is, complete drivel. If you're really stuck, you can write This sucks and I don't know what to write, etc. I haven't sunken to that level yet, but often I'm describing the disheveled state of my room, the inane list of errands I have to run today or some maudlin adolescent-girl type of diary entry. And my handwriting is illegible.

None of that's supposed to matter. The point is, you're actually filling up a page, and that's significant enough. On some subconscious level, you're showing yourself that you're not going to be intimidated by a blank piece of paper.

Now, you're supposed to do this every day. Every. Day. Then again, we're supposed to be banging out our bona fide literary efforts on a daily basis. This one you can accomplish even Before Coffee, and it's allowed, even encouraged, to be a random stream of verbal garbage. And there's something to be said for filling up a notebook. It's a start.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Not everyone gets writer's block.

(And yesterday's post--still figuring out how to create a link. Bear with me.)

Not meaning to be catty, and I wasn't intending to be touching so soon on issues like plagiarism, but the Boston Globe's timely story on Kaavya Viswanathan is worth a note.


A few months back I had read in the Globe about this 17-year-old Harvard student who had just inked a $500,000, two-book deal. Now, as it's risen to the number 32 spot on the New York Times bestseller list, Kaavya Viswanathan's first novel is going under the microscope. Purportedly many sentences and passages were strikingly similar to ones from a 2001 novel.

From the Globe:

On page 213 of McCafferty's book: He was invading my personal space, as I had learned in Psych. class, and I instinctively sunk back into the seat. That just made him move in closer. I was practically one with the leather at this point, and unless I hopped into the backseat, there was nowhere else for me to go.

On page 175 of Viswanathan's book: He was definitely invading my personal space, as I had learned in Human Evolution class last summer, and I instinctively backed up till my legs hit the chair I had been sitting in. That just made him move in closer, until the grommets in the leather embossed the backs of my knees, and he finally tilted the book toward me.

And so on...

Let them sort it out, but it 's possible that this is less an issue of plagiarism than that some novels are being phoned in on less-than-deep topics by writers who tap into some wavelength where these thoughts, expressions and descriptions are lazy, shorthand, standard rather than deeply considered and etched out? Now here's where I'm being catty.

I do remember reading some PR about Kaavya Viswanathan in the Globe a few months back, and the schadenfreude I'm feeling now stems not only from her lucrative book deal, her youth, her investment bank future and her well-rounded life of Harvard, clubbing and pedicures. But yeah, I'm being catty and snippy about that. However, more than that, it's the way she describes banging the book out in 50-page spurts every two weeks or so, between studying for exams and doing whatever else a busy Harvard student does. And she plans not on becoming a full-time writer but, more likely, an investment banker: writing is something she just "does." Damn overachiever!

I have to admit I haven't read the book, and don't plan to. But knowing many writers, I will be thinking about how they approach their craft as this blog unfolds. And for many of us, it is a long haul to get to a finished novel, or even a publishable short story. My friends, colleagues and mentors have also worked hard at their style, to reach an end result of glimmering prose, sharp dialogue and characters that stand out.

Then again, does it have to take three, five, even ten or fifteen years to write the thing? We'll get into that as well.

Another interesting factoid unearthed in the Viswanathan flap is that she had help from a "book packager," 17th Street Productions. An article on cracking the juvenile book market describes the typical process as follows:

For 17th Street Productions, once you sign the contract, the editor sends you a two-to-three page outline that relates the plot of the story and which characters are involved. The writer then creates a more in-depth chapter outline and returns it to the editor, who may require some changes, after which the writer completes the first draft. The first draft is edited for corrections and changes, and returned to the writer, who makes the required changes and sends it back to the editor.
I read that Viswanathan had originally conceived a "darker" storyline, but that 17th Street had convinced her to lighten up, and worked with her to develop the novel as it ended up.

What does that mean for my short story collection, your novel? Do you stand a chance in this industry without an obvious marketing angle working in your favor? And, by the way, how's the writing coming along?

So you want to be a WRITER?

(My first post from original yahoo blog!)

I got my M.A. in fiction ten years ago, at City College in New York. Have had about some short stories published--I will get into that fun process in the near future. Have had a looooong dry spell since. No wait--I've spent hours and months researching and writing the first 30 pages of a novel. It's a really good chapter too. Since then, my wheels have been spinning as I ran to occupy myself with everything else but the basic undeniable reality of having to sit down and write for at least an hour or two every day. So not much turnout recently, eh? I want to change all that. Since I waste way too much time on the Internet anyway, I figure I may as well be contemplating, dissecting and engaging in a dialogue on different approaches to getting the creative juices flowing.

Brave New Blog

I started a blog on Yahoo two days ago, then decided I like blogger a lot better, so I'm moving my previous posts over here. The only update from my post that follows, "Not everyone gets writer's block," is that author Kaavya Viswanathan is now promising to rewrite the sections of her first novel that bear striking similarities to another 2001 novel she claims to have "internalized" as a young reader. As I had mentioned, one of the weird things about this story is the concept of book development--kind of like a team of people working to conceptualize a book's plot, character development, etc. It is not the same thing as editing, which takes place much later in the process, leaving the author in much more control of the original concept. It sounds very Hollywood. It disturbs me. But it payed off very well for the author in this case. She's getting some flak at the moment, but still has that book deal, movie rights optioned, etc. The publishing world has changed and I'm still rather old-school...